Speed Secrets: Hey Look! There’s Nothing!

Features, Racing I By Ross Bentley I October 18, 2017

As human beings, we hate to look at nothing. We love to look at something. Anything. Even some things we don't want to look at, right? Have you ever been faced with something disgusting or ugly, but you looked at it anyway?

We like to look at problems, but not solutions. A car spins in front of us (a problem), and because of the way our brains are wired, we look at it. And the one thing we've all learned from our performance driver training is that we steer where we look. So, we steer toward the problem! What's wrong with us?! Why don't we look at the gap to either side of a spinning car (the solution)? Because there's nothing there. And we don't like to look at nothing.

Most people think of vision as something we have, but not something we can develop or improve. That's kinda like thinking you have a bicep muscle that you were born with, and there's nothing you can do to strengthen it.

When I talk about vision I'm talking about a lot more than just your "central vision acuity" – what your doctor checks when he has you read the eye chart. If you hold a quarter at arm's length, that is about all that we see with full clarity. Everything else expanding out from that quarter-sized circle begins to blur, more and more as it gets further from the center of our vision. That's where our peripheral vision comes in, and this is a critically important part of our vision skills that we need to be great drivers.

Depth perception, the ability to detect contrast and movement, and being able to process all of this information very quickly are all part of the vision skills we need. And just as we can develop the strength and flexibility of a muscle, we can also develop our vision skills, thus improving our driving.

There are many specific sports vision therapy exercises that you can do to improve (do a search for a sports vision therapist in your area if you’d like to work with one), there is much you can do on your own. It's just like working with a physical trainer at a gym versus working out with weights on your own: Yes, working with a trainer is better because you'll end up making more progress in less time (with less likelihood of injury), but you can make significant gains working on your own. The biggest challenge is having the discipline to keep at the training.

There's one other comparison I can make between physical and vision training. If you're training to run a marathon, doing some weight training to strengthen your leg muscles will help a lot. With vision training, if you want to improve your abilities on the race track, you can do a lot of the training elsewhere. In fact, the bulk of your training can be done while driving on the street.

The main vision skill we can and should develop is looking farther ahead. Because our eyes are attracted to things, and especially bright shiny things, when we drive on the street we tend to look at the tail lights of the vehicles just in front of us. And we build the habit of looking only that far ahead, and that's a bit like laying on the couch every evening for four hours and expecting our leg muscles to improve enough to run a marathon.

Over the next month keep a Post-it note stuck to the dash of your car with the words, "Eyes up" written as prominently as possible on it. That's your reminder to work out your vision. Practice looking as far ahead as possible.

Practice looking at nothing. Driving in heavy traffic or in parking lots, look at nothing – focus on the gaps in traffic. If a car pulls out in front of you, deliberately look to either side of it. Practice looking beyond the vehicles in front of you, to the nothing in front of them.

As you drive down the highway, practice noticing things in your peripheral vision. Notice the colors of the trees, the signs, movement of vehicles in your mirrors… but without turning to use your central vision acuity to do so. Practice using your peripheral vision, being more aware of things all around you.

If you practice this on a daily basis for a month or so, I'll guarantee that you will be a better driver on the track, as well as on the street. And that's not a bad thing.

Give your vision a workout.

Ross Bentley

For more information about Ross’s tips, coaching, eCourses, newsletter, Virtual Track Walk videos, and other resources to help you drive at your best, go to www.SpeedSecrets.com

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